After an extensive three-year-long renovation, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial at the Museum—New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president—reopened to the public on October 27, 2012, revitalizing a tribute to Roosevelt’s unprecedented efforts in fostering the American conservation movement.
Designed in the grand Roman style by John Russell Pope, the two-story Memorial includes the Museum’s iconic Central Park West façade, the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.
|Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall|
|Central Park West Façade|
|The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda|
Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall
On the lower level of the Memorial, the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall was reenvisioned with new interpretive exhibits charting Roosevelt’s journey from a budding naturalist exploring the Museum’s halls to an elected leader with a deep commitment to conservation. It now anchors what has effectively become the Museum’s conservation wing, with galleries that include the Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals (see story here), the Hall of Biodiversity, the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, and the Hall of North American Forests.
The hall’s four exhibition areas feature artifacts from the Museum’s collections that tell the story of Roosevelt’s fascination with nature and dedication to conservation. Visitors are introduced to a Young Naturalist who was fascinated with birds, including specimens he collected and later donated to the Museum; a Firsthand Observer who recognized the threat of extinction to the American bison while a rancher in North Dakota; the Conservation President who took unprecedented action to place more than 230 million acres under federal protection, including archaeological sites such as New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, pottery from which is on display; and a Lifelong Explorer who undertook many expeditions, including the arduous exploration of Brazil’s River of Doubt in 1914.
At the center of the hall, a new life-size sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt, created by Brooklyn’s Studio EIS, depicts him as he looked during a 1903 camping trip to Yosemite with naturalist John Muir, inviting visitors to sit and contemplate Roosevelt’s pioneering role in conservation and the importance of protecting nature today. A new bronze medallion embedded in the floor depicts American bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with the inscription, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” an excerpt from Roosevelt’s Confession of Faith speech delivered on August 6, 1912.
Four restored dioramas highlight scenes related to Roosevelt’s life: the 17th-century New York of his ancestors; the Adirondacks he visited as a boy; his cattle ranch in the western Badlands of North Dakota; and the bird sanctuary near his beloved home in Oyster Bay, New York. The hall also includes videos of sweeping American vistas adapted from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and a video feature about Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. Kiosks featuring a touch-screen interactive timeline—which is also available on the Museum’s website—highlight important milestones in Roosevelt’s life and his accomplishments in conservation via photos, text, and video interviews with Roosevelt experts. The timeline also features a calendar of Museum programs that illuminate Roosevelt’s impact on conservation policies and science today.
David Hurst Thomas, a curator in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology, served as the supervising curator for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, with Douglas G. Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University, Roosevelt historian, and author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, and Patricia O’Toole, Roosevelt biographer and associate professor at Columbia University, consulting on the project.
Central Park West Façade
The Central Park West façade underwent a comprehensive restoration. The triumphal pink granite arch and 350-foot-long paved terrace were restored and illuminated for the first time in decades to highlight striking architectural details, including bas-relief sculptures created in 1936 by Edward Field Sanford, Jr., depicting a variety of animals on a 126-foot-long frieze. Life-sized sculptures of four notable American naturalists and explorers, Daniel Boone, John James Audubon, William Clark, and Meriwether Lewis, as well as the commemorative Theodore Roosevelt statue created by James Earle Fraser in 1936, were cleaned. Wheelchair and stroller access was improved, and new paving stones, lighted handrails, and restored lanterns now lead to a refurbished porte-cochère.
The Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda
Restoration of this imposing hall—familiar to most visitors as the Museum’s main entrance and a New York City interior landmark—included the first comprehensive conservation of William Andrew Mackay’s murals of Roosevelt’s public life since they were installed in 1935.
The two-year conservation effort revealed the artist’s original vibrant palette on some of the largest indoor murals in a New York City public building. The murals, which cover an area of about 5,200 square feet, depict milestones and scenes from Roosevelt’s public life: the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to end the Russo-Japanese War, for which Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; the building of the Panama Canal; and Roosevelt’s expeditions to Africa.
In addition, the popular display featuring a Barosaurus rearing up to protect its young from an attacking Allosaurus was divided in two, creating an 8-foot-long path that allowed visitors to walk between the combatants for the first time.
Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates served as the lead architect for the Memorial’s restoration. The approximately $40 million Theodore Roosevelt Memorial restoration project was completed with significant support, including $23 million from the Empire State Development Corporation and $11.5 million from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Council of the City of New York, and the support of New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.